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Hull brothers among hockey's hardest shooters

Tuesday, 08.28.2012 / 2:34 PM / Features
By John Kreiser  - NHL.com Columnist
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Hull brothers among hockey\'s hardest shooters
NHL.com takes a look at some of the hardest shooters in hockey history\r\n

From the early days of hockey until the late 1950s and early '60s, coaches frowned on the slap shot -- it took too long to get off, they said. The big windup let the goaltender get set. It missed the net too often.

Fast-forward to the present era and it's impossible to imagine hockey without the slap shot. It has become a lethal weapon and changed the way the game is played, forcing goaltenders to don masks and compelling teams to adopt strategies to keep big shooters from getting the chance to blast away.

Players are bigger and stronger now, and composite sticks have all but replaced the "twigs" of old, making it difficult to compare shooters of different generations. Today's shooters can be clocked on speed guns in a way that those of previous generations could not be.

But the anticipation in the stands when a player tees up a slapper -- the knowledge that the game could change in an instant -- is every bit as prevalent today as it was decades ago.

Here are some of the biggest blasters in NHL history:

10. Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion

By current standards, the Hall of Famer's slap shot may have been nothing to brag about. But Geoffrion, a key member of the Canadiens' dynasty in the late 1950s, is generally credited with inventing (or at least popularizing) the big wind-up shot and adding a layer of accuracy to it.

Geoffrion actually got his nickname from a newspaper reporter in the late 1940s when he was playing lacrosse. But it was a perfect fit for the man who became known as "The Boomer," because of the noise the shot made when he took it. Opponents who doubted the potency of his big shot sometimes paid with broken feet -- Gordie Howe was among them. Geoffrion's heavy shot also had the habit of hitting a goaltender toward the side of the pads and trickling into the net; the Canadiens helped out by popularizing the use of screening goaltenders when Geoffrion teed one up from the point.

The slapper helped Geoffrion become only the second player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season. He finished his career with 393 goals in 883 regular-season games on the way to the Hall of Fame.

9. Jacques Lemaire

Lemaire is remembered today as the coach who turned the New Jersey Devils into Stanley Cup champs and was behind the bench for the first seasons of the Minnesota Wild. But Lemaire was also a Hall of Fame player, a member of the Montreal dynasties of the late '60s and late '70s -- and the owner of one of the biggest slap shots in NHL history, one that he developed as a boy by playing with a heavy steel puck.

His most famous goal was a slapper -- a rocket from the red line that beat Chicago goaltender Tony Esposito late in the second period of Game 7 in the 1971 Stanley Cup Final. That goal triggered a Montreal rally as the Canadiens overcame a 2-0 deficit for a 3-2 win and the first of six championships in eight years.

Lemaire was a terrific two-way center, but his slap shot gave him a weapon that not many players owned.

8. Dennis Hull

Imagine being a 300-goal scorer but only the third-best player in your own family. Such was the fate of Dennis Hull, who was overshadowed during his playing career by big brother Bobby and later on by nephew Brett.

But while Dennis didn't put up the kind of offensive numbers the other Hulls did, he was no slouch -- and when it came to booming slap shots, there were those who said his was better than Bobby's. Dennis' shot usually was considered the heavier of the two, and though he didn't have Bobby's speed or scoring ability, he did put up 40 goals in 1970-71, reached the 30-goal mark on three other occasions and played in five All-Star Games.

It would have been fascinating to have Dennis and Bobby square off in a Hardest Shot competition during their primes. Instead, the question of which Hull had the bigger shot will have to remain unanswered.

7. Sheldon Souray

Souray's accuracy with his slap shot has never quite matched his velocity, but he's one of those players who makes shot-blocking one of the NHL's most dangerous assignments.

Souray came to the NHL with New Jersey in 1996 and was traded to Montreal three years later. But it wasn't until the 2003-04 season that his offensive skills came to the fore -- he tied Adrian Aucoin for first place in the Hardest Shot competition at 102.2 mph and powered home 15 goals, more than he had scored in his entire career before that season.

He added 12 more in 2005-06, then set a career high in '06-07 with 26 goals -- including 19 on the power play, a record for a defenseman. His slap shot's reputation continued to grow around the NHL after he signed with Edmonton in the summer of 2007 -- he finished third in the Hardest Shot competition in 2008 and set the unofficial record of 106.7 mph at the Oilers' team skills competition in 2008-09, finishing the season with 23 goals.

The 36-year-old played with Dallas last season and signed with Anaheim this summer -- bringing his big shot with him.

6. Steven Stamkos

The first player taken in the 2008 NHL Draft has developed one of the great one-timers in NHL history. But one reason he finds the net so often is the velocity of his shot -- he was clocked at 101.9 mph in his first skills competition with the Tampa Bay Lightning and matched that number in the Hardest Shot competition in 2011.

Stamkos also became an Internet sensation when he had a slap shot that was clocked at 104.5 mph during the Bauer Athletic Camp in 2010. But what sets him apart from other big gunners is his ability to get his shot off quickly and on target. He had a career-high 60 goals this past season -- and he's only 22.

5. Shea Weber

Weber is Alydar to Zdeno Chara's Affirmed when it comes to the Hardest Shot competition during All-Star Weekend -- he keeps coming in second. The Nashville Predators' defenseman cranked up a 106-mph rocket during this year's competition -- a harder shot than any taken since the competition began in 1990 -- only to lose to Chara's record-setting 108.8 mph.

The year before, he took a shot clocked at 103.4 mph, only to lose to a Chara blast of 105.4 mph.

But coming in second to the NHL's reigning top gun is no shame -- and Nashville's opponents know the one thing they can't do is give Weber time and space to fire rockets from the point. He had 19 goals in 2011-12 and has scored 74 times in the last four seasons.

4. Al Iafrate

When the NHL began holding the Skills Competition at All-Star Weekend, Iafrate became one of the first stars by winning the inaugural Hardest Shot competition with a blast clocked at 96.0 mph. He won again in 1993 with a record-setting blast of 105.2 mph -- a mark that stood for 16 years -- and repeated the next year with a clocking of 102.7 mph.

At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Iafrate was an explosive skater, hit like a tank and had a slap shot that could make goaltenders duck. He scored 20 or more goals three times in his 12 NHL seasons, but played only 799 games due to injuries before retiring at age 32.

3. Al MacInnis

Boston's Zdeno Chara has won the Hardest Shot competition at the last five All-Star Weekends, but he still has a way to go to top MacInnis' career mark of seven, set in a span of 12 years from 1991-2003.

MacInnis' shot was a weapon from the day he stepped onto an NHL rink with the Calgary Flames during the 1981-82 season, though it took the rest of his game a few years to catch up. He sent a calling card on Jan. 17, 1984, when his slap shot from outside the blue line hit Blues goaltender Mike Liut in the mask, splitting his helmet on the way into the net. The power of his shot made MacInnis one of the most feared players in the NHL -- especially on the power play. He was one of the few players who was a threat to score from center ice.

After being used mostly as a power-play specialist in his early years, MacInnis became one of the NHL's best defensemen, making the First All-Star team four times and winning the Norris Trophy in 1998-99. His big shot lasted throughout his career -- he won the last of his seven Hardest Shot competitions at age 39.

2. Bobby Hull

The "Golden Jet" didn't invent the slapper, but he took it to a whole new level in the 1960s. The most feared sight for a goaltender for much of the decade was Hull winding up in the Chicago zone and racing up left wing before firing away. He may have done more to encourage goaltenders to use masks than any other player.

Appropriately, Hull used a slap shot to score his 51st goal of the 1965-66 season on March 12, 1966, making him the first player in NHL history to score more than 50 goals in a season. He finished with 54, the most by a player in the Original Six era.

Hull's slap shot reportedly was once clocked at more than 118 miles an hour (and his wrister at 105 mph -- though the technology wasn't as good), and he could skate at nearly 30 mph. It was a combination of speed and power that terrified goaltenders throughout his career.

1. Zdeno Chara

The site of a 6-foot-9, 260-pounder winding up for a slap shot with a backswing that must seem to come out of the arena rafters would make any goaltender cringe. It's what NHL goaltenders see from Chara, the captain of the Boston Bruins, on a nightly basis.

Chara has made the Hardest Shot competition at All-Star Weekend his personal playground. He's won the last five and set records in each of the past two, firing a blast of 105.9 mph to win in 2011 and topping that with a record-shattering rocket of 108.8 in 2012.

But Chara isn't just a big guy with a big shot. His all-around game earned him the Norris Trophy in 2009, and he's been a finalist in each of the past two years. However, it's that big shot that has made him a household name among hockey fans. Until someone dethrones him, Chara is the reigning top gun of the NHL.